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phydaux

Disadds for an espionage campaign?

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I've been watching a lot of the old Sean Connery Bond movies, and reminiscing over my many sessions of playing Top Secret back in the day.  And now I've got a huge jones to play some classic Cold War espionage.

 

Turns out the old TSR Top Secret modules are available on eBay for reasonable prices.

 

I'm thinking 75 + 50 for point levels, but shouldn't some disadds come "standard" as part of the setting?  The other side is trying to hunt you down and kill you.  Your own side is watching your every move and probably doesn't fully trust you.  What do you guys see as dissads appropriate to the setting of classic '60s/'70s Cold War espionage?  

 

Also, do I play it straight like Connery/Craig Bond, campy like Moore/Brosnan Bond, or over the top like season 1-3 Archer?

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To bring this back around on topic, what about the Disadds?

 

I'm thinking something like:

 

Hunted: Eastern Intelligence Services

Expectation of Loyalty: Western Intelligence Services (NOT Sense of Duty.  The expectation is there if the agents are feeling it or not)

Watched: Western Intelligence Services

 

The question is what should each of those be worth?

 

Think of an American or a British Intelligence Officer operating under cover in East Germany in the '50s/'60s/'70s, Russian & East German Counter-Intelligence Officers constantly on the lookout for suspicious activity.  Is that moist, nubile, young research assistant REALLY a political dissident, or is she secretly a KGB-trained assassin?  

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23 hours ago, phydaux said:

What do you guys see as dissads appropriate to the setting of classic '60s/'70s Cold War espionage?  

 

Also, do I play it straight like Connery/Craig Bond, campy like Moore/Brosnan Bond, or over the top like season 1-3 Archer?

 

Sorry to get things off topic. Let me come back around to the point.

 

Bond-style espionage is intended to be fantastic and a little bit campy, but as you point out, it's not all the same. If you decide how over-the-top you're willing to go, it will inform your disads.

 

Let me put it in terms of my own personal preference of Bonds:

  • Daniel Craig: other than Sean Connery, he's my favorite Bond. But he's more grim, dark, and the films are a bit more "realistic" in terms of the espionage game. The politics are real in the Craig films, so the disads will be a bit more constraining. Despite there not being a cold war to spice things up, he is being watched by MI-6 all the time (implanted homing beacons, nonotech blood, etc.). This would be Hunted, all the time, easy to find, with extensive influence, but only watched = 25 points. He may not be hunted, but he'll also be watched by SPECTRE at the very least (also more powerful than PC, extensive influence, frequently, but only watched = 15). He'll also have a reputation (frequently, extreme, but only to a small group = 10), and a psych. lim. of overconfidence (common, strong = 15). He should probably also have a code of professional conduct that he's expected to uphold, while also having the psych. lim. of breaking the rules, or disrespecting authority. Something like that. This is on one extreme of the Bond pole.
  • Sean Connery: my favorite Bond, and the standard by which everyone else is judged. He'll also be watched, but less efficiently seeing as how he was always flying around to random places without even checking in, so the disad. would probably only be 15 points at most. But he'd be hunted by both SPECTRE and SMERSH, who are doing more than watching him, so their disads. would be worth more, maybe 20 each. Connery's Bond is overconfident, has no regard for authority, is a notorious womanizer, and an inveterate gambler, each worth probably 10 points apiece.
  • Archer: my next favorite. I'm so glad you brought him up. This would be the other extreme of very campy, very lighthearted, very funny spy games. Archer has all sorts of built-in disadvantages since he works for his mother. He's watched (15), has strong ties to his professional workplace (psych. lim. of maybe 10), has a "complicated" relationship with his employer/mother (I don't even know how to value this one), and he's arrogant and overconfident to the point that he always gets into trouble (very common, strong = 20). I don't know if anyone is actually hunting him, but he'd have at least some kind of reputation (at least 10 points). I guess the CIA are watching him (maybe 10 points). But this sort of campaign would be much less serious, and far more hilarious to run, so you can pretty much pick the most ridiculous disads. that you can think of. Speech impediments, compulsive need to get the last word in an argument, inveterate know-it-all . . . they sky's the limit in this sort of campaign. I'd play it in a heartbeat!
  • Timothy Dalton: I guess there's a reason nobody remembers him (sorta like that big beach-bum Bond George Lazenby from On Her Majesty's Secret Service). He's kind of a boring Bond. He's monogamous (a trait that was explicitly noted in the age of AIDS), the cold war was ending so there were no great bad guys hunting him, he didn't have any real character flaws that made him distinctive. He was a squeaky clean, sterilized Bond. Sort of a politically correct Bond, I guess. There's not much in the way of disads. here, not like Connery or Archer. But I did actually like his portrayal of Bond despite how I've depicted him. But he was hired as Bond when who I was really rooting for was . . .
  • Pierce Brosnan: I loved Remington Steele, and when the show ended there were rumors of him becoming the new Bond and I was thrilled. But his wife was ill and his life sorta fell apart for a while, so he wasn't cast as Bond for another ten years. When he was, he was caught in a tough spot: the world sorta outgrew Bond. Roger Moore turned him into a characature (more on that in a bit), and Dalton overcorrected the role into a boring, bland version of Bond. Brosnan had to reinvent Bond, but with no real adversaries to define him as well as Connery at the height of the cold war. Brosnan has all the style and suave of Connery, but he suffers from the same problem as Dalton's Bond: no more cold war. He has professional standards he's expected to follow, but he didn't seem as rebellious as the earlier Bonds. He's watched by his employers, but never too seriously. He's overconfident, and maybe a little more loose with the women, but these won't be worth as much. They were never as strong as Connery, who seems to have set a pretty high bar for being the most flawed and also the most interesting of the Bonds. Brosnan was already pretty old for the role (about 10 years too old after his delay), and he outgrew it almost as soon as he began the role. And the stories kinda sucked anyway. He nearly killed the whole Bond enterprise because the strength of his personality was not enough to overcome really bad plots. Speaking of which . . .
  • Roger Moore (aka Disco Bond): in my opinion, the absolute worst of the Bonds. He was good in The Saint, but he just couldn't carry the Bond role in a way that I respected. It may not be all his fault, but he's a big part of it. I guess the producers got tired of a Bond who was too close to the books, and they wanted to start making things fun, campy, and more "up to date" with the '70s audience. Hence the Disco Bond, complete with his bell-bottomed tuxedos, his ridiculous pompadour, his annoying smirk, and the almost forgivable wink as he delivered his horrible (and I mean horrible) one-liners. He turned into a charicature of Bond. It may have been the writing, and not completely his fault, but they surely seemed to be writing to his personality, which just came off as smarmy to me. I can't say enough bad about Roger Moore. A spy movie shouldn't have goofy sound effects like slide-whistles when he jumps a ramp, for example. It's impossible to take this seriously. It's like the Bond audience was expected to be 15-year-old, sex starved boys. Because boy, did Moore's Bond have women. This would be his biggest disadvantage. I'm not sure he was watched at all from the context of the films. He was just supplied with bigger, fancier, more absurd equipment and went on his merry way. I guess he would be hunted as well, but it never seemed very dangerous or threatening. This Bond was all style and glitz, with none of the darkness that is inherent in the spy world. Roger Moore almost killed Bond, especially when they ran out of Ian Fleming novels and had to come up with their own stories. The '80s were just a cruel age for Disco Bond, who seemed somehow too contemporary in the '70s but too outdated only a few years later in the early '80s. I just can't get my head around Moore's version of Bond. So I would encourage you to not go this rout. If you want a campy, funny Bond, go the Archer route. Half-measures are no good for a fun campaign. Go all out crazy, or keep it classy and constrained like Connery or Craig.

 

Whew. That's a mouthful. I don't know if it helps, but it is at least one way to evaluate the different Bonds and what their disadvantages might look like. Must more constraining for Connery, who played Bond close to the vest, and much less so with the free-for-all of Moore's Bond. Archer would be a great campaign just for it's own insanity! But shows like The Saint, or The Man From UNCLE, or Mission Impossible (the movies set a new bar for serious spycraft worth investigating) may be good examples for where you could take an espionage game.

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I think I didn't explain myself well.  I'm not looking to point-up Bond himself.  I'm looking to quantify some "standard" disadvantages that ANY PC in a cold war espionage setting would have.  So far I've come up with:

 

Hunted: Eastern Intelligence Services

Expectation of Loyalty: Western Intelligence Services (NOT Sense of Duty.  The expectation is there if the agents are feeling it or not)

Watched: Western Intelligence Services

 

I'm wondering what those disadds should be worth.

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28 minutes ago, phydaux said:

I think I didn't explain myself well.  I'm not looking to point-up Bond himself.  I'm looking to quantify some "standard" disadvantages that ANY PC in a cold war espionage setting would have.  So far I've come up with:

 

Hunted: Eastern Intelligence Services

Expectation of Loyalty: Western Intelligence Services (NOT Sense of Duty.  The expectation is there if the agents are feeling it or not)

Watched: Western Intelligence Services

 

I'm wondering what those disadds should be worth.

 

What do you want them to be worth?
 

Here are minimum or close to minimum values in my opinion:

Hunted:  Opposing Intelligence Agencies Infrequently (Less Pow; NCI; Limited Geographical Area; Harshly Punish) -5

Hunted:  Own and Allied Agencies Infrequently (Mo Pow; NCI; Watching) -10

Social Complication:  Subject to Orders/Regulations Frequently, Major -15

 

These could easily be adjusted depending on what the player wants for the character.

 

Lucius Alexander

 

What is a palindromedary worth?

 

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"Hunted:  Opposing Intelligence Agencies Infrequently (Less Pow; NCI; Limited Geographical Area; Harshly Punish) -5"

 

Thanks for the reply.

 

I would nix "Less Powerful" and "Limited Geographical Area."  I think the resources and global reach of the Soviet Bloc espionage/counter espionage agencies warrant that.

 

So that makes -15, -10, and -15, for a total of -40.  For EVERY PC.  And I was only planning for each character to have 50 points in disadds total. sheesh. 

 

From a player perspective, what do you think of 75 + 50 for PC point levels?  

 

I'm thinking each PC would have AT LEAST 60 points in Skills.  Even assuming Human Maximums they'd want ~40 points for Stats.  That would leave 25 points for Talents, Perks and such.   Hmmm...  Should I bump it up to 100 + 50?

 

Not every PS should have Martial Arts.  That's a hot button of mine, personally.  But I'm thinking 75 points each in Skills, particularly when you factor in Area Knowledges & Languages.  

 

Any recommendations?

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I'm thinking this will be a demo game with the PCs all pre-gen.  I'd like at least six, with all the various western intelligence agencies well represented.  

 

This is my list so far:

 

West German - Former fallschirmjager.  Athlete/boxer/wrestler.  Expert parachute. Fluent in German, Russian, English, and Bulgarian.  Eschews carrying a firearm when in the field.

 

English MI6 - Former SAS.   Expert in firearms and demolitions.  Expert SCUBA and parachute.  Fluent in English, French, and Italian.

 

Israeli Mossad - Female.  Moved to Israel after being liberated from Buchenwald.  Recruited by the Mossad.  Fluent in Yiddish, German, Polish, Russian, English, and Hebrew.  Expert in seduction.  Casual killer.  Preferred field weapon is the knife. 

 

American CIA - Former US Army Intelligence.   Expert in lock picking & security/alarm systems.  Expert in shadowing, surveillance, and "field craft."  Always carries a pistol.  Speaks only English.

 

I think I need two more, and at least one of them female.

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11 hours ago, phydaux said:

I think I didn't explain myself well.  I'm not looking to point-up Bond himself.  I'm looking to quantify some "standard" disadvantages that ANY PC in a cold war espionage setting would have. 

 

Sorry, I didn't mean to spin completely out of control. My intention was to look at how the eras differ in terms of the disadvantages Bond appears to have, not so you could stat Bond himself, but to maybe consider what disads are appropriate for whichever flavor of espionage you go with. The standard disadvantages in an Archer campaign would clearly be different than in a Connery campaign. But I saw "Bond" and went completely out of my mind! 

 

I think it's still worth considering, however, the nature of the "watched" and the "hunted" in each case. I think I lost my own point in all of my words: Bond himself was watched and/or hunted differently in different eras. As Dame Judi Dench said in Casino Royale, "Christ, I miss the Cold War." Just $.02 buried under a mountain of nonsense.

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On March 21, 2019 at 9:51 PM, phydaux said:

 I'm looking to quantify some "standard" disadvantages that ANY PC in a cold war espionage setting would have.  So far I've come up with:

 

Hunted: Eastern Intelligence Services

Expectation of Loyalty: Western Intelligence Services (NOT Sense of Duty.  The expectation is there if the agents are feeling it or not)

Watched: Western Intelligence Services

 

I'm wondering what those disadds should be worth.

 

 

They are part of an organization of some sort. I suppose in a manner of speaking and with the help of loosening the definitions a bit, they may well have Disads similar to military or law-enforcement personnel.  "Subject to Orders:"  Do what you're told; not what you think.  Certainly they have a lot of leeway as field operatives, but at the end of the day, when they are told "secure Mr. McGuffin," they will have to do that, regardless of danger or desire or even if they know it's just the wrong thing to do.  Again, because they _will_ have more lateral freedom than most military personnel (I don't expect a lot of people make it field agent spies if their judgement can't be trusted, after all), I wouldn't allow the same sort of level of disadvantage that I would for, say-- a beat cop or an infantryman.

 

Building from that, what is the structure of your organization?  Where do the PCs fit in?  Are they in the lower-echelons, actual foot soldiers subject to the orders from pretty much anyone else in the organization?  Are they mid-level operatives, responsible to a handler of some sort, who reports directly to the brass?   Is the agency all about these characters?  Are they at the top of the mountain, the agency a support staff charged with doing nothing but helping these characters achieve their goals?  (the characters, then, would presumably report to some separate entity: the Queen's hand-picked men, of an elite CIA committee.)  

 

That information can help you determine the value of "Subject to Orders" as well as other unshakeable responsibilities the characters may have.

 

How about "Deep Cover" as an actual Limitation?  No matter what, they cannot break character.  For one, it can get them killed or worse.  If the characters routinely "know things" that the other team would like to know-- the identities of other spies, how much the spies already know, etc-- then breaking cover could result in death by long and painful torture.  At the very least, a humiliating hostage exchange that will likely ruin their usability as secret agents for years to come, at least in this region, and certainly affect their careers.

 

Worst thing about Deep Cover?  Having to watch as another spy is discovered, tortured, and executed, knowing the whole time that doing one single thing to help them could expose you, especially while the enemy is on high-alert for additional accomplices.  And how do you beat a hasty departure before the torture becomes too much, and a captured spy gives you up to the enemy?

 

Again, I am afraid that the value of that is going to depend on two things primarily (seasons with others to taste):  what do your spies routinely "know."  Perhaps not the exact data-- that will change all the time-- but how much information and how valuable that information is to the enemy as a routine matter of course when completing an objective?  That's the sort of thing that needs to be considered.

 

Second: how are captured spies usually treated?  Held as prisoners?  Interrogated?  Pretty standard 5-point stuff.  Tortured?  Held indefinitely and in secret?  That's worse.  Killed as a matter of routine, perhaps after a couple of months of torture?

 

What other fall-out might affect the characters if their cover is blown?  Ruin their careers?  Jumping to Brian's Bond references, in that sort of game, it doesn't seem to matter: Bond was the _worst_ "secret" agent of all times in the movies: I don't think he ever walked into a room where he wasn't identified by half the people in there.  Didn't seem to affect much, though.  :lol:

 

But what happens in _your_ world?  The entire team get extracted before they can be outed?  The mission scrubbed and failed? Everybody gets desk jobs?

 

Perhaps any agent whose cover has been blown picks up a 1-point Reputation: 6- (5-, whatever) to be IDed as a spy anywhere in this region of the world forever and ever, Amen.

 

 

Just a couple of thoughts.  Hope something in there gets your juices flowing.  

 

 

:)

 

Duke

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IRL, the kinds of things security investigators want to know about the people they're potentially issuing security clearances to, are things that someone else could use to blackmail an agent.  Debt, addictions, criminal history, sexual peccadilloes, mental or relationship problems... Any of those would make good Disadvantages.  They're also the kinds of things foreign operatives target.

 

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DNPC: Friend who doesn't know you're a spy (Unaware Normal)

Hunted: Own Agency (More Powerful/NCI/Watch) 8-

Hunted: Enemy Counterspy Agency (More Powerful/NCI) 8-

PsyL: Paranoid (Common/Strong)

SocL: Secret Identity [Spy] (Occasionally/Major)

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Oh, here's a good one.  Probably an everyman Disad.  Psych Limit: Habitual Behavior.  

 

Everyone has the things they do on a regular basis.  That includes the places they go and the routes they take to and from work.  People in security fields, especially those stationed in other countries, are trained to, among other things, not take the same route to and from work every day.  And people still forget.  This is how those people get kidnapped, ambushed, or assassinated.  And...

 

4 hours ago, Cassandra said:

DNPC: Friend who doesn't know you're a spy (Unaware Normal)

 

...this is also how their DNPCs get kidnapped, ambushed, or assassinated.

 

Edit to add:  Or maybe not even kidnapped, ambushed, or assassinate.  Maybe instead you just get photos taken with a telephoto lens of your DNPCs walking into their school, workplace, favorite coffee shop, etc.  

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1 hour ago, Chris Goodwin said:

Oh, here's a good one.  Probably an everyman Disad.  Psych Limit: Habitual Behavior.  

 

This actually makes me think of Bourne Identity, where the operatives are required to return for debriefing after their missions. In the Treadstone case there would be a serious psychological complication, maybe even a dependemcy related to the drug therapy. In a more Bond-oriented campaign, there may only be a psychological complication or a social complication that limits the agent’s movements until they report for debriefing. 

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On 3/24/2019 at 12:39 PM, phydaux said:

Can you offer up two more character ideas?

 

Off the top of my head I can think of an American mercenary (or Saudi, or Iraqi) who has been in counter-intelligence while secretly stationed in Afghanistan. He could also have been secretly training anti-Soviet Afghani soldiers in the ‘80s. This fits the Cold War Bond theme, and offers another geographical footprint. 

 

You up could do similar characters with anti-Communist operatives from Southeast Asia in the ‘60s, CIA “Air America” operatives into the ‘70s, and anti-Communist operatives in Central America in the ‘80s. You could even tie a lot of it together with the Iran-Contra schemes in the ‘80s. 

 

These characters would all all be much darker than Bond-themed characters. Black Ops would offer up a few good disadvantages as parts of “package deals,” including rabid anti-Communist psych disadvantage, social complications related to their secret lifestyles, secret identities because of deep cover, and loyalty oaths to their home country.  These are all off the top of my head. 

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6 hours ago, Chris Goodwin said:

Oh, here's a good one.  Probably an everyman Disad.  Psych Limit: Habitual Behavior.  

 

Everyone has the things they do on a regular basis.  That includes the places they go and the routes they take to and from work.  People in security fields, especially those stationed in other countries, are trained to, among other things, not take the same route to and from work every day.  And people still forget.  This is how those people get kidnapped, ambushed, or assassinated.  And...

 

 

...this is also how their DNPCs get kidnapped, ambushed, or assassinated.

 

Edit to add:  Or maybe not even kidnapped, ambushed, or assassinate.  Maybe instead you just get photos taken with a telephoto lens of your DNPCs walking into their school, workplace, favorite coffee shop, etc.  

 

Or replaced by a Double (as in Alias).

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There are a number of different Archetypes regarding Spies.

 

First is the Deep Cover Agent.  They work hard to be trusted inside an organization, and do their best to be helpful.  Eventually they'll get close to the leader either through efficiency or through a sexual relationship.  Seduction, Persuasion, Conversation are musts with this characters as well as Concealment, Systems Operation, and Cryptography to transmit their information.  18 INT and 20 PRE are recommended along with Speed Reading and Eidetic Memory for reading those secret documents quickly.  A disguised RKA with Invisible [Hearing] or a HKA is recommended but the Deep Cover Operative should use their position of trust and their relationship with the leader to protect themselves.  Example of this character is Eve Teschmacher from Supergirl.

 

The Second Type is the Master of Disguise.  This character will take the place of some important person not well known by the personnel of some important installation.  Their job is to sabotage or gain some critical piece of information in a short amount of time.  Cramming, Acting, Disguise, Mimicry, Cramming, Forgery, Conversation, and Persuasion are useful skills.  They should be able to fight but would rather talk their way out of trouble.  Example of this character is Rollin Hand from Mission Impossible.

 

The Third Type is The Thief.  This Agent also adopts a new identity with each mission so Cramming is needed, but Lockpicking, Concealment, Stealth, Bugging, and Disguise are skills recommended for this type.  They go in, gain quick access, and steal information or pant a surveillance device.  Getting in to a situation is easier then getting out so they have to be good fighters.  Example of this character is Sydney Bristol from Alias.

 

The High Society Agent is the Fourth type.  This agent is Well Off, and has Seduction, Conversation, High Society, and Bureaucratics.  They gain information from Diplomats and the Wealthy.  They can either be old fashioned or ultramodern, and can fight well with different styles.  The best examples are John Steed and Emma Peel from The Avengers.

 

The High Tech Agent is the Fifth Type.  There are two variants. One is the computer programming who never gets near the target and pulls the information out of their system, usually through a device planted by one of their fellow agents.  The other variant is a cyborg who has enhanced senses and strength.  The first variant example is Barbara Gordon as Oracle, and the second type is Steve Austin and Jaime Sommers.

 

 

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Spy Skills 1

 

Disguise - Remember looking exactly like someone else is very hard, but making yourself look different then you normally do is very easy.  If you want the ability to make yourself look and sound exactly like someone buying Shape Shift [Sight/Hearing/Touch], Limited Group of Shapes [Humanoids], Imitation, Cost END Only To Change Shape (+1/4) for 45 Points.  Taking an IAF Rubber Mask (-1/2) is appropriate as Spies are always getting their masked pulled off at the worst times.  Remember to buy Transform: Instant Change [Any], Linked [Shape Shift] (-1/2).

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Code Vs. Killing (Common/Moderate)

 

Brian Garfield is best known for writing Death Wish but he also wrote Hopscotch, a spy thriller about a retired spy releasing what he knows.

 

A sequel series of stories was about heavy set spy "Checkpoint Charlie" Dark, who would set up enemy agents to be killed by their own side, but never kill himself.  Think the TV show Mission Impossible for that sort of outcome.

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